For Reasons of Space

Isn’t it ironic that Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age, a book about “the distressing sense of of ‘information overload’ . . . in an era of new technology and exploding information”, begins with this preface

For reasons of space the originals of  quotations in foreign languages have been omitted here and are available online at my Harvard Web site, keyed to the footnote numbers . . .

To reduce the number of footnotes, references to adjacent sentences have often been grouped together; in case of uncertainty please look ahead to the next note for a reference.

So Blair’s is a book about information overload that itself contains too much information to be self-containing. May Alanis Morissette call this ironic? While I don’t know what Ms. Morissette may say, I’d like to muse (rhapsodically but more likely not) about the constraints of space.

As electronic publishing becomes an increasingly important mode of publishing, do you think the importance of space will be much diminished? Will publishers care less about writing into their contracts with writers what the length of the eventual manuscripts delivered should be? Or will space continue to be a publishing concern? After all, some books are existentially meant to take up little space, both in the length of text and, more importantly, time devoted to reading. Lastly, isn’t the amount of space a work take up a rough indicator of the effort went into producing it? Longer work, longer time a writer took to get it done, more effort needed by the editors to get it into publishable shape, bigger advance the publishers need to pay to the writers, and so forth. Rough and subject to numerous counterexamples as this description of the book production process is, it isn’t something that changes significantly whether the final product emerges in print or electronic format. What say you? Do you think we’ll still see these “for reasons of space” apologias even when a work exists only electronic form?

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